Though incumbent Mayor Susan Roline once acted as four-time mayor Bob Baird’s campaign manager, their leadership styles and political policies couldn’t be more different.
“When I campaigned for Bob, I felt he was the person for the job, but I’ve learned a lot since then,” said Roline of her uncle by marriage.
Roline now hopes that when Merrittonians visit the polls on Nov. 19, they will vote for consistency and keep her current team together as much as possible. Baird on the other hand is calling for a direction change.
“It has become apparent over the last three years that there has been a lack of attention to the direction this council is going,” said Baird. “Voters should be considering a complete direction correction.”
Both claim to know the community well. Baird cites his four terms as mayor and another four as alderman and councillor, leaving him with almost 20 years in municipal government under his belt. Roline is a Merrittonian, born and raised, with forty years in banking and the last three years as mayor where she initiated Merritt’s first mayor drop-ins.
“I think I have a good read on what the community is all about,” said Roline. “I work well with First Nations, I work well with indo-Canadians, and I work well with the average worker because I’ve been there.”
Baird has not had a seat in Merritt’s council chambers since 2002 and did not serve all his terms consecutively, but he says this doesn’t mean he has lost touch with the community.
“I never believed one person should occupy a seat for a long period of time,” said Baird. “I did take some sabbaticals along the way – not always by choice – but no one should be in office without a breather.”
Further, Baird believes he knows what is best for the community and says he is committed to tackling debt and taxes.
“I will make sure the taxes are lowered – that’s my number one goal,” said Baird, adding that Merritt’s current debt is getting out of hand. “We can’t keep borrowing against our children and grandchildren’s futures. Why should we leave them our debt?”
Baird referenced council’s recent decisions to borrow money for projects such as the DeWolf Way improvement and work on the airport subdivision saying that councils of the past would never have incurred such debt.
Roline on the other hand, believes that some debt is good debt.
“Borrowing for DeWolf Way and the airport is an investment for the community,” said Roline. “If we’re not willing to invest, how do we expect others to be willing to invest?”
Roline explained that the DeWolf Way project was initiated eleven years ago by another council, however, when the city was not successful in obtaining Federal grants for the project the present council decided to get the ball rolling.
“It’s the first thing people see when they come to town and with so much traffic, the area is not safe as it is,” she said. “If we continued to put funds aside each year, it would take ten years to save enough for the cost of today’s project, and by that time, the cost would have increased.”
Roline said that to oppose these projects is to fail to see the big picture, adding that council voted unanimously to move the projects forward.
“My goal is to continue to move Merritt forward,” she said. “Do I see us continuing to borrow? No. The big projects have been taken care of.”
In his own way, Baird is also promising to move Merritt forward, promising a cleaner, safer, healthier community. He also wanted to create more employment opportunities for Merritt’s youth by networking with both federal and provincial agencies.
“You can’t just have a blitz, it must be an ongoing process,” said Baird. “We should have someone employed by the city to seek those opportunities.”